AFC East: Drew Coleman

Plugging the holes: AFC East

August, 4, 2011
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Sean McCormick of Football Outsiders takes a look at the biggest remaining questions for each team in the AFC East in this ESPN.com Insider piece. Insider Here's a snippet of what he thinks of each team:

Buffalo Bills:

There was simply no way the Bills were going to be able to adequately address all their holes in the space of a single offseason, and to their credit, they haven't thrown lots of money around trying to. Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't a long-term solution at quarterback -- he may not even be a short-term solution -- but there were no surefire prospects worth burning a top-five draft pick on, and the free agent pickings were slim, particularly if you didn't want to give away the farm for Kevin Kolb. …

The right tackle spot, however, isn't a hole but a canyon, and it doesn't look like Buffalo has done enough to address it. The Bills were 30th in adjusted line yards on runs off right tackle, but that doesn't begin to tell the tale.

Miami Dolphins:

If you were to simply look at the statistics, quarterback would not necessarily be the biggest hole on the Dolphins. Safety Chris Clemons struggled badly getting to the sidelines to provide help over the top and offenses frequently targeted him in isolation in the deep middle of the field; the interior line could use some more help even after Mike Pouncey is inserted into the starting lineup and of course, the special teams were consistently horrific from beginning to end. …

Of course, there are lots of things that statistics don't cover, and it's those things that turned Henne's season from disappointing to catastrophic. Brandon Marshall publicly allied with backup Tyler Thigpen, and took his grievances with Henne to the airwaves, complaining about Henne's refusal to throw him the ball with sufficient frequency. Henne was benched during the season, reclaimed his starting job only because of injuries, and then was injured himself.

New England Patriots:

The hot story out of Providence is that Bill Belichick seems to be abandoning his traditional 3-4 defense in favor of a 4-3, and that the Patriots have primarily been working with 4-3 Under and Over fronts in the first days of training camp. The release of Ty Warren and the trade for Albert Haynesworth could be viewed as additional evidence of a shift, as Warren is a prototypical five-technique while Haynesworth has done his best work in a 4-3 set. The real issue is finding someone who can rush off the edge, whether standing up or from a three-point stance.

New York Jets:

Aside from his foray into the Nnamdi Asomugha sweepstakes, general manager Mike Tannenbaum has largely been content to re-sign his players or to extend the contracts of younger stars. The big name was obviously Santonio Holmes, but Tannenbaum also locked up Antonio Cromartie and Eric Smith, extended David Harris another four years, and returned Donald Strickland, who had played for the team in 2009, to replace the departed Drew Coleman. Although maintaining continuity isn't always a good thing -- Carolina's decision to spend vast sums to return the young core of their 2-14 team comes immediately to mind -- the Jets fielded one of the most talented teams in the league last season, and the talent was fairly evenly distributed on both offense and defense.

If the Jets are going to take a step forward, they don't necessarily need to sign a bunch of free agents. What they do need is for Mark Sanchez to take another step forward in his development, and preferably a big step. So how best to ensure that your young quarterback has all the weapons he needs? How about signing a 34-year-old receiver who has been in jail for the past two years?

Jets back-to-work FYI

July, 25, 2011
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NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Unrestricted FAs

Readiness factor: The Jets' coaching staff and much of the roster will remain intact, which reduces the learning curve. But the Jets won't have training-camp bonding time at SUNY Cortland, an enhancement Rex Ryan and his players prized the past two seasons. They already pulled the plug on their upstate training camp and will convene at team headquarters in Florham Park, N.J.

Biggest challenge: All their free agents. The Jets have some biggies, most notably at wide receiver. They must keep young quarterback Mark Sanchez's support staff stocked with weapons, and receivers Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith are about to hit the market. So are cornerback Antonio Cromartie and safeties Brodney Pool, Eric Smith and James Ihedigbo.

What a rush: The Jets quietly tied for eighth in the NFL in sacks last season but didn't have a fearsome presence in an overall defense designed to create mayhem. Of the 40 sacks they recorded last season, more than a quarter of them belonged to defensive backs and almost half were rung up by players who aren't under contract. The Jets released outside linebacker Jason Taylor (5 sacks). Defensive end Shaun Ellis (4.5 sacks) also has an expired contract.

Key players without contracts for 2011: In addition to the above, fullback Tony Richardson, cornerback Drew Coleman, top special-teams tackler Lance Laury, kicker Nick Folk, punter Steve Weatherford.

More data shows Mayo all over the field

June, 24, 2011
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Football Outsiders overlord Aaron Schatz busted out some research to illustrate the NFL's best tacklers against the pass.

Mayo
Mayo
And once again, New England Patriots inside linebacker Jerod Mayo looked strong.

Mayo led the NFL with 72 pass tackles, and his numbers look even more impressive when noticing he was one of only two non-cornerbacks in the top 12. Minnesota Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway was tied for 10th with 61 pass tackles.

For added context on Mayo's production, the differential drops precipitously when looking solely at linebackers. San Francisco 49ers star Patrick Willis ranked eighth but had 20 fewer tackles than Mayo.

No other AFC East cornerback or linebacker ranked in the top 10 at his position.

Buffalo Bills safety Donte Whitner ranked eighth among his peers with 43 pass tackles, with New England Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather one behind. Miami Dolphins safety Yeremiah Bell and Patriots safety Patrick Chung recorded 41 pass tackles, tying for 10th.

Schatz also broke down stop percentages on pass tackles. Football Outsiders defines a "stop" as preventing an opponent from gaining 45 percent of needed yards on first down, 60 percent on second down and 100 percent on third or fourth down.

New York Jets defensive back Drew Coleman made a stop on 36 percent of his pass tackles to rank 10th.

On the flip side, Bills sophomore Jairus Byrd had the worst stop rate among all NFL safeties. He made one stop on 37 pass tackles.

Mayo also scored remarkably well in a recent Football Outsiders report about broken tackles. Mayo allowed one ball carrier to break free while making 118 tackles, ranking second in efficiency among all defenders with at least 50 tackles.

Look at free agency under proposed CBA

June, 21, 2011
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ESPN's reports from Chicago indicate the latest labor proposal would allow players to become unrestricted free agents after four seasons.

That would clarify the market whenever it opens. Rules for the uncapped 2010 campaign didn't allow for unfettered free agency unless a player had been in the league six seasons. Any player with an expired contract and fewer than six years of experience was a restricted free agent, allowing teams to place qualifying tenders on them and receive compensation if another club tried to sign them.

Now it looks like players will be up for grabs -- with former teams receiving no compensation -- after four seasons.

Here are the AFC East players who would've been restricted with the six-year threshold but unrestricted at four years:

Buffalo Bills
Miami Dolphins
New England Patriots
New York Jets

Mankins' situation remains uncertain because we don't know if franchise-tag rules will remain in place under the next CBA. They probably will, meaning Mankins should be back with the Patriots in 2011.

Whatever they're worth: Jets tender nine

March, 1, 2011
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The New York Jets have placed restricted free-agent tenders on nine of their free agents.

Now we need to find out if those tenders are worth anything.

First, here's the rundown, with the draft compensation or considerations they'll receive if signed by another team:
ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini points out these tenders might not mean one iota under the new collective bargaining agreement.

Many of these players -- Holmes and Cromartie included -- could be unrestricted free agents under the new CBA. That means the club can't use tenders, and those players would be bound for the open market.

The Jets already used their franchise tag on linebacker David Harris.

Jets trying to tackle busy 2011 offseason

January, 28, 2011
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David HarrisAlan Maglaque/US PresswireFree-agent linebacker David Harris has led the Jets in tackles each of the past two seasons.
New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum held a news conference Friday to wrap up the 2010 season and address several issues moving forward.

Some highlights with my thoughts:

The Jets probably won't re-sign any of their players before the collective bargaining agreement expires March 4. This probably is the most prudent approach. The Jets would benefit from knowing the new salary cap structure rather than simply guessing on whether or not their players will fit under it. Teams also would prefer to know how free agency will be determined under the next CBA. Right now, we can't say for sure who will be restricted or unrestricted or what veteran minimum salaries will be.

Tannenbaum hopes to keep all three free-agent receivers: Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes and Brad Smith. I'm skeptical the Jets can pull it off. All are coming off big years, and it will be difficult to match all offers from other teams. But if the Jets can pull it off, the happiest man in the organization will be Mark Sanchez. Tannenbaum declined to speculate on whether or not the Jets would be interested in a post-prison Plaxico Burress.

Free-agent inside linebacker David Harris "remains a top priority for us." Harris, to me, is the most important free agent for the Jets. It's much easier to find a receiver in free agency than a stud linebacker such as Harris. He has led the Jets in tackles each of the past two seasons and makes all the on-field defensive calls. I highly doubt the Jets let him get away.

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
Icon SMIMark Sanchez has the second most starts in the AFC East, but who will he be throwing to next season?
Brian Schottenheimer will be back as offensive coordinator. I realize some Jets fans are disgusted with Schottenheimer's play-calling in the AFC Championship Game, but he's a gem. Deep back-to-back runs into the postseason with a raw quarterback is a major accomplishment. And let's not forget he had the Jets humming with Brett Favre at quarterback until Favre's right arm started falling apart in 2008.

Sanchez will get "a couple of opinions" on his injured throwing shoulder before deciding if he'll have surgery. The Jets don't want to cut on their quarterback unless they have to. But the sooner they make a decision, the better so Sanchez can begin the rehab process. One of the overlooked traits Sanchez has developed in his two years is toughness. He has taken quite a few shots in the pocket and on the run, but he stays on the field.

Tannenbaum expects LaDainian Tomlinson and Jason Taylor to be on the 2011 roster. Tomlinson and Taylor are under contract, but the Jets could release them. Tomlinson lost effectiveness as the season wore on, but he can be a quality backup for Shonn Greene and adds value in the passing game as a receiver and in blitz protection. Taylor clearly is nearing the end of the line, and he knows it. But he wasn't a liability and provided leadership Tannenbaum said was "really hard to quantify."

First-round draft choice Kyle Wilson's future is "one of our paramount objectives for the offseason." The day the Jets drafted Wilson 29th overall, head coach Rex Ryan declared Wilson would be their nickelback and a great punt returner. Even with Darrelle Revis absent all summer because of a contract dispute, Wilson couldn't seize the opportunity and fell behind Drew Coleman on the depth chart. Tannenbaum cited inconsistency as Wilson's biggest problem.

Right tackle Damien Woody and fullback Tony Richardson probably won't be back. Tannenbaum didn't make those statements, but that's what I read between the lines. Woody turned 33 during the season and recently underwent Achilles surgery. He also missed games with a knee injury. Wayne Hunter or Vladimir Ducasse could take over for him. The Jets cut Richardson before the season and brought him back. They also have fullback John Conner waiting in the wings.

Vernon Gholston sounds like a goner. The sixth overall pick in 2008 was a healthy scratch in the playoffs. Tannenbaum diplomatically said the Jets "are going to see if there's anything else to try, but he has been given his share of opportunities, and it could be time to move on." Move over Mike Mamula.

Troy Probable-malu against the Jets

January, 21, 2011
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- New York Jets fans shouldn't be concerned with all the names on the AFC Championship Game injury report. Jets head coach Rex Ryan announced Friday everybody will play Sunday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Steelers list four names on their report. The two biggest are safety Troy Polamalu (probable, Achilles) and defensive end Aaron Smith (doubtful, triceps). Polamalu missed practice Wednesday and Thursday, but participated fully Friday.

Cornerback Bryant McFadden (abdomen) and safety Will Allen (knee) are questionable.

For the Jets, receiver Brad Smith (groin), defensive end Shaun Ellis (knee), cornerback Drew Coleman (knee) and safety James Ihedigbo (knee, ankle) are questionable.

"They're questionable. They're playing. OK," Ryan said after rattling off the injury report at the start of Friday's news conference. "That's pretty much it."

Listed as probable are quarterback Mark Sanchez (shoulder), receiver Santonio Holmes (quadriceps), center Nick Mangold (shoulder), defensive tackle Mike DeVito (neck), defensive tackle Sione Pouha (back), outside linebacker Jason Taylor (concussion), cornerback Darrelle Revis (hamstring) and cornerback Antonio Cromartie (groin).

Halftime notes from Jets-Patriots III

January, 16, 2011
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Halftime observations from Gillette Stadium, where the New York Jets lead the New England Patriots 14-3:
  • The Jets have taken it to the Patriots so far. Tom Brady has been under pressure, and even when he has time he's misfiring. The Patriots might be starting to come unglued. Pro Bowl left guard Logan Mankins was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct right before halftime for shoving a Jets player.
  • Patriots head coach Bill Belichick benched receiver Wes Welker for the first offensive series. We can only assume it was because because Welker made 11 foot-related comments in a nine-minute news conference Thursday. Welker beat cornerback Darrelle Revis for a 10-yard gain early on the fourth play of the second drive.
  • Brady's attempts streak without an interception technically still is intact and will resume when the Patriots open the 2011 regular season. But on his fifth pass, Jets linebacker David Harris returned an interception 58 yards to the Patriots' 12-yard line.
  • That interception should have given the Jets an even larger lead. But their offense lost 8 yards on the next two plays and were forced to try a field goal. Nick Folk's 30-yard attempt was wide left, preventing the Jets from taking a 3-0 lead.
  • The Jets put together a drive that must have felt mentally satisfying and took a 7-3 lead with 10:24 left in the second quarter. Braylon Edwards made another great sideline catch for a 37-yard gain to the Patriots' 8-yard line. Two plays later, LaDainian Tomlinson made a difficult catch and ran into the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown.
  • Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has been creative. Option quarterback Brad Smith was deactivated because of a leg injury, but that didn't stop the Jets from trying to dazzle the Patriots. They ran a reverse with Joe McKnight. Backup guard Robert Turner reported as an eligible receiver and on one play went in motion and actually ran a route. Tomlinson has been in the Wildcat.
  • The Jets have sacked Brady three times. Defensive end Shaun Ellis collected a pair on the Patriots' second drive, including one on third down deep in Jets territory to force a Shayne Graham field goal. Defensive back Drew Coleman was untouched on another third-down sack in the second quarter.

Revis on Welker a bad idea for the Jets

January, 14, 2011
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For the past couple days on ESPN's "First Take," resident provocateur Skip Bayless has argued the New York Jets should stick star cornerback Darrelle Revis on New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker for the entire game Sunday.

Game analyst KC Joyner agrees that approach makes perfect sense when you consider Welker is Tom Brady's favorite target, and Revis is coming off a masterful performance against the NFL's leading receiver. Revis held Indianapolis Colts star Reggie Wayne to one catch for 1 yard last week.

Joyner, however, endorses an approach that would seem counterintuitive on the surface. Joyner explains Deion Branch truly is the Patriots' most dangerous receiver.

On throws that travel no farther 10 yards in the air from the line of scrimmage, Branch averaged 8.1 yards per target. Welker averaged just 6.6 yards, with his unusually high number of drops factoring in.

As for yards after the catch, Welker added 4.8 yards per reception compared to 4.9 yards for Branch (not counting his four games with the Seattle Seahawks).

But perhaps the biggest reason Revis should stay with Branch -- or at least mix up coverages, as Oakland Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha argued Friday on "First Take" -- is Branch's ability to go deep.

On passes that traveled 11 yards or farther, Branch caught 18 for 404 yards with four touchdowns. Welker caught 16 for 177 yards.

To summarize, Joyner writes: "Putting Revis on Welker would take away a strong short pass threat but putting him on Branch would take away both a short threat and a long threat. It's like placing two castaways on Revis Island instead of one."

Another issue to consider for the Jets is the knee injury nickel back Drew Coleman suffered Thursday. We're not sure of the severity, but he wasn't on the field for the portion of Friday's practice that was open to the media.

Final Word: Jets-Colts

January, 7, 2011
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Wild-card Final Word: NY Jets-Indy | Baltimore-K.C. | N.O.-Seattle | G.B.-Philadelphia

Three nuggets of knowledge about Saturday’s Jets-Colts wild-card game:

[+] EnlargeNew York Jets coach Rex Ryan
AP Photo/Bill KostrounNew York Jets coach Rex Ryan will try to avenge last season's AFC Championship Game loss this Saturday against the Colts.
If the Jets were the type of team to look ahead, they would admit the Patriots are their biggest concern today. We're speaking, of course, about a team coached by a guy who in the summer scrawled on the side of a tour bus that his team would be Super Bowl champions, a guy who on last year's postseason itinerary scheduled a ticker-tape parade through the Canyon of Heroes. So we know the Jets aren't very good at adhering to the "one game at a time" chestnut. The Colts look vulnerable (by their standards), and the Jets can draw confidence from last year's AFC Championship Game that they will compete Saturday night. Against the teams the Jets probably would face in this year's conference title game, the Jets own a recent victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field and a lost a close one to the Baltimore Ravens in the season opener. So that would leave figuring out how to beat the Patriots next week at Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots won 45-3. That probably makes the look-ahead Jets more nervous than the Colts do.

Lesser names in the Jets' secondary will be in the spotlight as much as Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. The "other guys" must step up to stop Colts quarterback Peyton Manning from waltzing down the field. Drew Coleman, who has shown a knack for big plays this season, will be the starting nickelback. Dwight Lowery, Kyle Wilson and Marquice Cole also will have roles in the Jets' sub packages. The defensive backfield is more flexible than it was in last year's AFC title game. Lowery started opposite Revis and surrendered nine receptions for 124 yards and a touchdown. Manning won't strike so hotly against Cromartie. That said, the Jets will need safeties Brodney Pool and Eric Smith to play well on the big stage. The Jets lost safety Jim Leonhard to a broken leg in early December, making Pool and Smith targets for opposing quarterbacks in the middle of the field.

Even a year later and with more weapons, the Jets still must limit the need for Mark Sanchez to win the game. In last year's playoffs, the Jets' objective was run, run and run some more, hope to get an early lead and then keep running until the clock struck 0:00. Sanchez completed just 12 passes in road victories against the Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers. Against the Colts in the AFC Championship Game, Sanchez was forced to throw because the Jets trailed in the third quarter -- and by the dreaded two scores with about nine minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Jets' front office helped their offense evolve into a team that could come from behind. They traded for Santonio Holmes and added LaDainian Tomlinson as a receiving threat out of the backfield. The Jets went from a team that ran on 58.9 percent of their plays in 2009 to one that ran 49.1 percent of the time this season. Even so, the Jets can't trade throws with Manning and the Colts. The Jets must establish themselves as the superior physical team -- which they are -- with a steady amount of Shonn Greene runs against a Colts run defense that has improved but still can be forgiving. From there, Sanchez can run play-action passes.

Double Coverage: Jets at Colts II

January, 6, 2011
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Double CoverageESPN.com IllustrationWho has the advantage in the wild-card game between the Colts and the Jets this Saturday? Our bloggers debate.
In last season's AFC Championship Game, the upstart New York Jets were on their way to scoring their third straight road upset in the playoffs. They'd already knocked off a pair of division champions and led the Indianapolis Colts in the third quarter at Lucas Oil Stadium.

But the Colts outclassed the Jets in the second half and won easily to advance to the Super Bowl. The Jets had to regroup, knowing that to attain their Super Bowl dreams, they had to figure out a way to get past the Colts.

They won't need to look for them in the playoffs this year. The Jets and Colts will meet in the first round Saturday night, again in Indianapolis.

ESPN.com AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky and AFC East blogger Tim Graham break down the rematch.

Tim Graham: The first thought I have about the Colts is that Peyton Manning isn't going to win this game with his aura. Aside from past experience, the Jets don't have much reason to quake in their cleats Saturday night. They can beat this guy. Manning has proven to be a mortal without tight end Dallas Clark and receivers Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez to target. Seventeen interceptions? Almost knocked out of the playoffs by the Jacksonville Jaguars? These Colts are a shadow of what we've come to know.

Paul Kuharsky: How about with his chakra, then? You've been spending too much time with Ricky Williams, dude. Has Manning been perfect? Hardly. But as Colts blogger Nate Dunlevy points out, and our ESPN Stats & Information confirms, Manning threw for 4,700 yards, tossed for more than 30 touchdowns, connected on 66 percent of his throws, had an interception rate of 2.5 percent and won 10 games. If that's a shadow of what you've known, you must really know Tom Brady’s 2007 season then. Because that was the only other time it has happened.

[+] EnlargeNew York Jets' Mark Sanchez
AP Photo/Kathy WillensJets quarterback Mark Sanchez reached 10 wins two games faster than former league MVP Peyton Manning.
TG: Yeah, Manning won 10 games. So did Eli Manning and Josh Freeman. They didn't make the playoffs. The Colts' shadow doesn't have much to do with Peyton Manning slinging the ball all over the yard and racking up yardage. He's still great, but he's not a one-man show. If I were a Colts fan, my concern would be how they needed to close with four straight wins to avoid the embarrassment of being edged out of the playoffs by the Jaguars. The Jets, on the other hand, have shown to be a more complete team. That's how an erratic quarterback like Mark Sanchez can win one more game than Manning did and clinch a playoff berth weeks in advance.

PK: Well, Manning's always been crushed for being great in the regular season and not good enough in the playoffs. Congrats on being the first to hammer him for winning "only" 10 games and the division while throwing to Jacob Tamme and Blair White.

TG: That's what I mean. The Jets can contain those guys much easier than Clark and Collie. Plus, the Jets have been preparing for this matchup since last season's AFC Championship Game. They helplessly watched Manning carve the center of the field against them and realized immediately -- even though they had Darrelle Revis -- they needed more cornerbacks. Specifically with Manning in mind, the Jets traded for Antonio Cromartie and drafted Kyle Wilson in the first round. Previous starting cornerbacks Dwight Lowery and Drew Coleman gave them depth in nickel and dime packages. The Jets' biggest issue is at safety, where injuries have made them vulnerable.

PK: Manning has a bit of experience against teams with poor safety situations. His numbers against Houston and Jacksonville? Just nine touchdowns, one pick and a 101.5 passer rating. On the other side is the unspectacular Sanchez. I doubt Sanchez will be able to attack Aaron Francisco, the Colts' fourth-string strong safety, in a similar fashion, but we'll see. The Sanchize was near perfect in the first half of last season's AFC Championship Game. But the Jets asked him to throw only seven passes. After intermission, Indy greatly reduced his potency. The Colts didn't sack him and were credited with only four hits that day. The Colts' big-play potential from their Pro Bowl defensive ends was neutralized, and they still rolled to a 30-17 win. Of course, it might have had something to do with Manning throwing two-second half touchdowns to Sanchez's zero (and one interception). What happens this time if Dwight Freeney and/or Robert Mathis are able to introduce themselves to him a few times?

TG: Sanchez absolutely is the pivotal figure for the Jets on Saturday night. But, much like the personnel adjustments head coach Rex Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum made on the defensive side to thwart Manning, they made changes on offense with the playoffs in mind. Sanchez might not have progressed much in his second season, but he didn't have a sophomore slump either. He has gained another 11 months and 16 games of NFL experience since the last time he faced the Colts. Plus, the Jets' offense has the ability to come from behind, something it couldn't do before. Last season's Jets were all ground-and-pound, and if an opponent took a two-score lead, the Jets' chances to win were slim. Sanchez showed several times this year he can strike in crunch time. Santonio Holmes and LaDainian Tomlinson out of the backfield give him much better weapons to go along with Braylon Edwards and tight end Dustin Keller.

PK: The most dramatic on-the-field difference in the Colts this year as compared to last is how they finished up running the ball and defending the run. Indianapolis enters the playoffs coming off four games in which they ran for 4.5 yards a carry and held opponents to 3.5 yards. Last year in their final four meaningful regular-season games, they were getting 3.5 yards and allowing 4.1 yards.

TG: Maybe the Colts will morph into the 1972 Miami Dolphins before our eyes.

[+] Enlarge Indianapolis Colts running back Joseph Addai
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezColts running back Joseph Addai is averaging 4.3 yards per carry in an injury-plagued season.
PK: A month ago the Colts defense recommitted to playing fast and having fun. It's funny how a team can get away from such simple themes, especially when a return to them produces such fine results. Gary Brackett's been great. Fellow linebackers Pat Angerer and Kavell Conner have been quite good, even as rookies. Veteran Clint Session could return to take time from Conner. Offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen's willing to send in whichever back is best suited for a situation or a matchup, so we could see any sort of mix of running backs Joe Addai, Dominic Rhodes and Donald Brown on Saturday night. They are running more than well enough to give the Colts a balance that makes Manning's play-action super effective.

TG: Momentum on the ground has been a concern for the Jets since their bye in Week 7. Tomlinson went from MVP candidate to looking like the worn out player the San Diego Chargers thought they were bidding farewell. But Shonn Greene and Tomlinson found some traction in the closing weeks. Let's not even factor in what the Jets did against the Buffalo Bills in the regular-season finale, even though their backups trampled the Bills' first-stringers for 276 yards.

PK: I’m always willing to toss out Buffalo. I don’t even really like wings.

TG: Yeah, but I know you still have a cache of Rick James 8-tracks. Anyway, the Jets ran the ball well against three of the NFL's best run defenses late in the year. They surpassed the Pittsburgh Steelers' league-leading average by 43 yards and the Chicago Bears' second-rated run defense by 34 yards. As for stopping the run, the Jets pride themselves on it and improved statistically this year. They ranked third this year at 90.9 yards a game and 3.6 yards a carry. But -- and this is a big one -- they allowed more than 100 yards in each of their games before the finale. The Steelers averaged 5.8 yards a carry. The Bears averaged 4.4 yards. That said, I would be willing to bet if the Colts wanted to try to run the Jets to death and not have Manning throw so much, then the Jets would be thrilled.

PK: Give me a little impersonation of Rex Ryan thrilled after winning this game.

TG: It probably would go a little something like this ... "Well, shoot, doesn't feel much better than that, to be honest with ya. We played like Jets today. It was a dogfight out there; I'll tell ya that much. Those Colts are sunthin' else. One thing I'll say about them: I saw Joseph Addai running like Lydell Mitchell out there and was, like, 'Whoa! Wait a second! We could be in for a long day here.' But our defense was flying around and eventually found a way to wrestle him down out there. I said earlier in the week this was personal with Peyton Manning, and they do a great job. He's great, and it's hard to get to him, but I just feel like we knew what to expect and were able to find a way to bear down and put all our chips in the center of the table and beat him. That guy's had my number and it feels good to know I can beat the guy when it counts. But I gotta give a ton of credit to our offense out there, too. Mark Sanchez played great and showed why we traded up to draft him. That right there's what we saw when we scouted him and just knew this guy was going to be a special player. Their crowd was tough with the way they were roaring at the opening kickoff I was, like, 'Whooo! Here we go!' It was full speed ahead. But one thing I should point out is that I broke out my lucky sweatshirt with the pizza stain this week." ... How would Jim Caldwell react to a Colts win Saturday night?

PK: I can hear him, his voice just the same as if they'd have lost: "We're pleased to have beaten a good football team, a quality football team. It's gratifying that our work this week paid off. I shared with you some of the examples of the studiousness I encountered during the preparation week. You saw the rewards of that. We'll enjoy it, we should enjoy it, it was hard-fought and we’re fortunate. We will have to do those same things to prepare for Pittsburgh. It’s a tough place to play, an excellent football team. It's a new challenge. It will be fun to see them get out there and see what they can do."

TG: In that case, I'm glad I'll be covering the Jets' locker room, win or lose. It'll be more interesting. I think the Jets have a better chance to win the game than a lot of prognosticators are giving them credit for. But even if they can't pull off the upset, they'll face a lot of questions as an organization. With all of the negative attention they've generated this season, a loss against the team they spent a year preparing for should lead to considerable introspection in Florham Park. Should we make picks?

PK: Sure. I pick St. Elmo. Make a reservation.

Choose this week's High Energy player

December, 20, 2010
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With three AFC East victories in Week 15, there are several candidates to mull for the next High Energy performer.

Feel free to vote for anyone you wish in the comments section, but these are the players I'd like to highlight for your consideration (in alphabetical order):

Drew Coleman, Jets cornerback. He had a team-high 10 tackles and two fourth-quarter strip-sacks in a vital 22-17 win over the Steelers.

Aaron Hernandez, Patriots tight end. The rookie had four catches for 31 yards, scoring two touchdowns in a 31-27 victory over the Packers. His last touchdown came with 7:14 to play and stood as the winning play.

David Nelson, Bills receiver. The undrafted rookie scored a touchdown in his third straight game. He had three receptions for 61 yards in a 17-14 victory at Miami.

Brad Smith, Jets kickoff returner. He took the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown to set the tone at Heinz Field. He finished with 140 return yards.

Others who might warrant consideration include Bills linebacker Arthur Moats, Patriots cornerbacks Kyle Arrington and Devin McCourty and Jets receiver Braylon Edwards.

Rapid Reaction: Jets 22, Steelers 17

December, 19, 2010
12/19/10
7:14
PM ET
PITTSBURGH -- The New York Jets escaped Heinz Field with a white-knuckle 22-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

What it means: The Jets badly needed to win. They snapped an ugly two-game losing streak and notched their 10th victory to put them on the cusp of a playoff berth. They might not need to win another game if the proper opponents lose over the next two weeks.

Defense stands up to Big Ben: Despite some harrowing moments, the Jets contained Ben Roethlisberger's comeback aspirations. Drew Coleman had a pair of strip sacks in the fourth quarter, but Roethlisberger kept coming until time ran out with the ball on the Jets' 10-yard line.

Unsung hero: Jets receiver Braylon Edwards made several tough catches and took a pounding from the Steelers. He finished with eight receptions for 100 yards. His difficult 38-yard catch down the right sideline set up a Nick Folk field goal in the second quarter.

Plays of the game: The Jets started and finished the game with bangs. Brad Smith returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown to give the Jets some much-needed confidence. After running back Rashard Mendenhall trampled the Jets for 57 minutes, Jason Taylor threw Mewelde Moore for a 3-yard loss and a safety with 2:38 to play.

Jets offense snaps futility streak: Mark Sanchez ran a bootleg into the end zone from 7 yards out to tie the score at 17 in the third quarter. That was the first offensive touchdown since Thanksgiving night, a span of 11 quarters.

Holmescoming: In his first game against the Steelers since they traded him for a fifth-round draft choice, Jets receiver Santonio Holmes had six catches for 40 yards. Holmes had a 20-yard gain wiped out by a costly Matt Slauson holding call. Rather than have first-and-goal at the 5-yard line, the possession ended with a punt.

What's next: The Jets' rugged homestretch continues with a game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.

Overachievers prevailing in AFC East

December, 9, 2010
12/09/10
5:22
PM ET
Fred Jackson and Tom Brady and Davone BessGetty ImagesFred Jackson, Tom Brady and Davone Bess came into the league as unheralded long shots but have made the most of their chances.
It's no mystery why we love underdogs.

Respected football minds who get paid to assemble NFL teams dismissed them out of hand, scratched them from their draft lists, cut them in training camp.

Yet these players survive. They're too driven to give up. Not all of them become stars, but that's not necessary to become a precious asset on a team.

"As a coach, you love those stories," said former New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs head coach Herm Edwards. "They don't let you down."

Said Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey: "You have to have them. There's no way to play the game without them."

Overachievers have dominated the AFC East this year. Late-round draft picks, players who weren't drafted at all and castoffs from other teams have starred for every team, including the MVP favorite (Tom Brady), two leading rushers (BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Fred Jackson), three leading receivers (Wes Welker, Steve Johnson, Davone Bess) and three sack leaders (Cameron Wake, Mike Wright and Kyle Williams).

These thriving underdogs are a substantial reason why the AFC East has been so compelling this year.

"It's football," said Jim Jensen, the ultimate survivor with the Miami Dolphins. They drafted the Boston University quarterback in the 11th round in 1980, and he stuck around until 1992 as a receiver/wedge buster/long snapper/third-down fullback/holder/tell me where to go, Coach, and I'll hit them.

"I like to watch guys that are working hard and working for the team," Jensen said. "They're working for a goal. They're not selfish. Wes Welker is a great example. He just loves to win. He's unselfish. Davone Bess is another one who's an inspiration to watch."

There's a reason the conquering underdog is such a common theme in Hollywood.

"These guys have something to prove," said film producer Mark Ciardi. "There's enough of these stories where these guys just survive and climb over players teams have a lot of money invested in. It's just a different thing when you've got to prove people wrong. They know they've got to check way more boxes than other people to succeed."

Ciardi pitched for the Milwaukee Brewers despite being a 15th-round draft choice in 1983.

"I got no money to sign," Ciardi said. "I was the last guy on the pitching squad of 17 guys in rookie ball. I had no chance."

Four years later, Ciardi made it to the majors. He started three games and pitched another in relief. He defied the odds, which is why he finds stories about unlikely heroes so appealing.

Among his true-story films: "Invincible" (about Philadelphia Eagles walk-on Vince Papale), "Miracle" (about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team), "The Rookie" (about 35-year-old rookie pitcher Jim Morris) and "Secretariat."

All of those motion pictures portrayed an undeniable will to win, a theme that has carried Ciardi throughout his career. He sees it in such players as Brady and Patriots running back Danny Woodhead.

"What I realized was you've got to work extra hard," Ciardi said. "Nothing will be given to you, but you have an opportunity. The only way you're going to succeed is to snatch it and force them to keep you. If they don't have money invested in you, chances are you're not going to get the same kind of shot."

But having overachievers on the roster means more than a compelling storyline and increased jersey sales.

They often become team leaders and examples for other players to emulate. Underdogs help manage the salary cap because they're cheaper (at least in the beginning). They make draft mistakes much more bearable. They help a front office sell the team to future free agents.

"They're so coachable," former Baltimore Ravens head coach Brian Billick said. "Once they get into it, they realize how tenuous it is to stay in the NFL. Nothing came easy for them. You love having guys like that on your team."

Inquiring about a coach's favorite player is like asking a parent to name his favorite child. But it's easy to guess what type they admire most: the relentless survivors.

"You know what they have done to get to where they are," Gailey said. "As a competitor, you appreciate that. Everybody doesn't end up with a bunch of God-given talent. Guys have to go fight for what they want in life. When those guys get it, it's very satisfying to see it for those guys to make it."

[+] EnlargeJim Leonhard
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesJim Leonhard went from the NFL scrapheap to being a vital player on defense and special teams for the Jets.
Two players New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan identified as critical to his establishing his defense last year were inside linebacker Bart Scott and safety Jim Leonhard. Neither was drafted. Leonhard had been waived by the Bills, re-signed and then cast adrift in free agency because the Bills viewed him as no more than roster filler. When Leonhard suffered a season-ending shin injury last week, Jets fans got nervous because he was integral to the secondary and special teams.

The NFL-leading New England Patriots are loaded with examples of perseverance. Brady has been such a superstar in the league for so long, it's sometimes strange to think of him as an underdog. But as the 199th pick in the 2000 draft, Brady might be the game's greatest overachiever.

Wake, the Miami Dolphins outside linebacker, leads the league with 12 sacks. He wasn't drafted and went five years between his last down at Penn State and his first in the NFL. Pro Bowl safety Yeremiah Bell was a sixth-round pick who got waived as a rookie and placed on the practice squad.

Buffalo's offense features late-round picks or undrafted players at the three marquee spots. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was a seventh-round draft choice and a career backup. Jackson didn't start a game for his high school team and came up through Division III and the arena leagues before emerging in NFL Europa. Top receiver Johnson was a seventh-round draft choice.

As inspirational as these players are, they also make slackers look that much worse. Those healthy first-, second- and third-round players who can't get on the field unfortunately aren't wired to battle that way.

"A lot of these guys think it's a right that they have to play," Gailey said. Overachievers "realize it's a privilege to play this game.

"When you got a guy who knows how to fight and understands the fight, understands competition, understands working through adversity and he becomes a good player on your team, then that helps set a tone."

Billick and Edwards emphasized the impact of undrafted players and late-round successes on a roster's overall well-being. Edwards, an undrafted player who started for the Eagles from the opening day of his rookie season, said unearthing overlooked gems are "like getting a free draft pick." Billick noted that they're instrumental to managing the salary cap.

"The residual effect is you don't have to spend those resources," Billick said, "whether they be draft choices or a procurement through free agency to go fill that spot.

"You pick Tom Brady up in the sixth round. Are you kidding me? What that does for your organization ... Even the difference between that and having to draft Matt Ryan third in the draft, the resources you have to spend is just a gift from above."

Heaven-sent is how Patriots fans must view a good chunk of their division-leading team. Dolfans can't be more thrilled with Wake or Bess. The Jets will depend on undrafted starters such as right guard Brandon Moore, defensive end Mike Devito and Scott down the home stretch while certainly missing Leonhard.

And about the only pleasure Bills fans have had this season is watching their unlikely stars because they're such gripping characters.

"An underlying factor to all these stories," Ciardi said, "is the will and the heart that makes them extraordinary on the field."

Jets DBs will bring heat on Tom Brady

December, 2, 2010
12/02/10
1:54
PM ET
Tom Brady cannot do everything.

There are, in fact, some situations he handles not so well.

For instance, the New England Patriots star ranks near the bottom of the NFL against a blitzing defensive back. Brady ranks 27th in passer rating. While he has completed 60.5 percent of his throws and has been sacked just once, he has zero touchdowns, two interceptions and a 69.5 passer rating.

Guess who likes to blitz their defensive backs.

The New York Jets send them after quarterbacks more than any other team -- by a wide margin. They've blitzed a defensive back 141 times this year. That's 31 more than the next closest team, the Seattle Seahawks.

"They've always done that," Brady said. "I don't think that's anything that we don’t expect. When you look at their blitz percentages, they blitz about half the time. On third down, they blitz about three-quarters of the time. They're blitzing a lot, and that's really a trademark of the defense to try to find different ways to get after the quarterback."

In his three games against the Jets since Rex Ryan took over as head coach, Brady has been bothered by blitzing defensive backs.

Brady has completed 52 percent of his passes, averaged 6.6 yards per attempt and threw no touchdowns with two interceptions. He has a 56.7 passer rating.

Against other teams in the same situation over the same timeframe, Brady has completed 67 percent of his throws at 8.1 yards per attempt with four touchdowns and one interception for a 104.6 passer rating.

The Jets' usual suspects are safeties Jim Leonhard, Eric Smith and James Ihedigbo and slot cornerbacks Drew Coleman and Dwight Lowery.

The reason they feel comfortable blitzing them so frequently is because they have Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie anchoring coverage.

Brady isn't thrilled to face Revis.

"I don't think you look going into a game thinking 'Man, I can't wait to start throwing the football at this guy,'" Brady said.

"Quarterbacks have been throwing at a 50 percent rate, and you can't be a very effective passing team throwing at that low of a percentage because you won't be able to sustain drives. When the opportunity is there, we have to be able to try and take advantage of it and make throws and run good routes on a guy like [Revis], but he covers guys pretty well, as well as anybody in the NFL.

"He and Cromartie are two of the best in the league, and to have them both on the same team playing in the same scheme where their coach really allows them to do what they do best is something I’m sure they really enjoy as well."

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